Cheat grass, discovering educational opportunities and maintaining social distancing. Like everything else in these trying times, even walking and hiking are not as uncomplicated as they once were.
Despite over 130 hikes, wanders and strolls in my book, most now have summer issues that can make them less desirable. An abundance of cheat grass is making my book's "wanders" and hikes a nightmare for both dogs and humans.
Popular trails, parks, lakes and campgrounds are seeing more visitors trying to capture some semblance of a summer vacation. This makes social distancing less likely in our great outdoors. Our treasured bright Central Oregon sunshine combined with our hot summer days have often made mid-day hiking undesirable. Here are a few options that may increase your outdoor experience and add an educational experience for minds young and old.
These are strolls and a hike to less frequented locations. They may not be cardio workout events, but each has their own beauty and if deserted, may quiet the mind and soul. Early morning and dusk hours are best for picture taking and critter sightings. If you have school-age children, have them bring along a tablet, sketch pad and binoculars.
These spots often have signage about the geology or animal life that frequent the area, providing for additional internet educational exploration at home. It goes without saying, bring water, snacks, sunscreen, head covering and face-masks in case others are nearby.
Rimrock Springs Wildlife Management Area: Located 9.0 miles south of Madras on Highway 26 toward Prineville and within the Crooked River National Grasslands, this often by-passed nature trail overlooks a desert wetlands and pond area created by a small earth dam near a natural spring. Its life saving waters were instrumental in the survival of the Meek Lost Wagon Train of 1848.
There is a paved half-mile trail with interpretive signage leading to a viewing platform. A nice, fairly level gravel loop trail continues, providing benches and another wetlands viewing area for another mile with great views of Grizzly Mountain, Pine Ridge and Gray Butte before returning you to the parking lot. Though summer is not the time for seeing the many migrating birds, a sign along the walkway states that over 500 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and insects are hosted by the wetlands. Cool early summer mornings and dusk are the best for animal and critter sightings and scenic picture taking.
Pelton Wildlife Overlook stroll: Located 11.0 miles from Madras, off NW Dizney Lane and along the Deschutes River, this overlook is exactly that, an overlook. It consists of two picnic table areas with panoramic views overlooking the Pelton Re-Regulating Dam and waters. Across the reservoir are the lands of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. This overlook can be easily located using your phone's mapping program.
Two short graveled paths of one-hundred yards or so look down on a re-regulating dam and its reservoir. Probably pretty boring at first to young eyes. But there are all kinds of educational opportunities for young and old alike.
What is a "re-regulating" dam? Can you see the large cement causeway stepping its way upriver next to the road below? This is a failed three-mile long former fish ladder. Signage will tell you about the fish ladder and how the filling and reducing of the captive waters below helps serve many purposes.
Another question for students to explore; Why do birds and animals especially like when the mud flats are exposed as the water level drops? Did you know there once was the thriving Vanora Railroad Station and community located off NW Dizney Lane in the nearby pastureland?
During the cool early morning and then the dusk hours, all manner of animals and birds can be seen around and on the reservoir. Driving two miles to the Pelton Dam pull-out, you will find signage describing the millions of years of geologic history that can be seen in the canyon walls and learn about the Native American for whom Lake Simtustus is named.
From the pull-out, high above on the eastern canyon wall, sharp eyes can detect a former railroad bed blasted out of the sheer lava cliffs using black powder. It was created during the Deschutes River "railroad war" of 1910. What?? A railroad war? Once again, more educational enrichment opportunities for students of all ages.
Camp Polk and Pioneer Cemetery strolls: These are two easy strolls through one of the earliest settled areas and cemeteries in Central Oregon. Being at a higher elevation and populated with tall pine trees, Camp Polk is somewhat cooler than the central part of Jefferson County. It is an hour's drive from the Madras area. Again, follow your phone mapping program to drive to the Camp Polk location.
Originally this location along Whychus Creek was briefly an 1865 army camp, then later it became an important rest and resupply point for travelers to and from the Willamette Valley over the nearby Cascade Mountain passes. Why did they have an army camp in the middle of nowhere?
Camp Polk Meadow Preserve is now the location of the remnants of the historic 1870 Hindman Barn and several large kiosks describing the meadow's importance to wildlife, Native Americans and early settlers. This is also the site of major restorative work for Whychus Creek meadow by the Deschutes Land Trust. An easy quarter mile path takes you around the skeleton remains of the historic barn with informative nature signage sprinkled along the way.
Walking a few hundred yards down a dirt road brings you to the pioneer cemetery.
For some, especially young students, it may be, "Ho hum, boring!" Here parental support will be needed to point out how many babies and young children were buried here. Why was that? Use the gravestone's dates to determine the age of others. What tenderness can be felt for the passing of a loved one by the headstone's inscriptions? What wars did some of the soldiers live through or die in? Why are there family groupings? Why are some graves identified by simple markers and others by large, elaborate grave markers? Do you think many people were buried out on homesteads? You get the picture.
Camp Sherman and the Metolius River: Cool mountain air, gorgeous shady pine forests and the beautiful icy cold, crystal clear Metolius River. What's not to like? Unfortunately thousands of campers and hikers know this is the spot to be during the warm summer months. Popular riverside trails and campgrounds are often packed throughout the summer.
A hike that is often overlooked is the Camp Sherman Community Loop Hike as described in detail in my book. This is a 4.5 mile loop hike that will take you along the Metolius River, in an up-river direction from the Camp Sherman Store (a great place to buy a deli-sandwich for a mid-hike picnic). You'll mostly be walking on residential dirt roads or paths beside roads so you are somewhat in areas of cabins, homes and historic resorts, but the river, creeks and shaded forests make for a nice hike away from the crowds.
You will pass cabins built along the Metolius River during the early 1900s, pass a housing development on land which the first golf course in Central Oregon was created in 1924. The 1924 era Chapel in The Pines is on this loop. It was a railroad car designed to be a church for lumbermen moving on railroad tracks between camps where the forests were being cut. The modernized "boxcar church" is still in use today.
In front of the Camp Sherman Store, next to the bridge over the Metolius River are several kiosk signs describing the fish found in the river and area's geologic history.
While here, nearby is the Head of the Metolius River. A couple hundred yard walk down a paved path will take you to a spot where the Metolius River suddenly pops out of the ground from an underground spring. That and the history of the nearby volcano we call Black Butte provide many opportunities for further internet research for minds, young and old.
The loop starts from the Camp Sherman Store. Head upriver from the public parking area following Roberts Bridge Road about a mile, then cross over the Metolius River at NFD 200 Bridge. On the other side, follow a path upriver before turning right and following a path following Tract C Road.
Turn right onto Camp Sherman Road for 1.4 miles passing historic resorts, creeks, community center and fire house. This road may have traffic but the path is safely off to the side. Past the fire station is a signed path directing you to follow the path to the right for the last leg of the loop towards Camp Sherman. You will pass behind the Chapel in the Pines and the Black Butte School.
For more details, see my book, page 17 or look at a community map.
Stan Pine's Hiking Historical Jefferson County Oregon is available at Mail Copies & More in Madras.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.